The Super Deluxe Liner Notes are keen to mount an intellectual defense of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” making several references to French proto-surrealist writer Alfred Jarry, inventor of pataphysics. Jarry defined pataphysics many ways, most concisely as “the science of imaginary solutions,” but left its exact nature intentionally vague and contradictory. It has also been said that:

  • Pataphysics is a branch of philosophy or science that examines imaginary phenomena that exist in a world beyond metaphysics.
  • Pataphysics deals with the laws which govern exceptions and will explain the universe supplementary to this one.
  • In pataphysics, every event in the universe is accepted as an extraordinary event.
  • Pataphysics passes easily from one state of apparent definition to another. Thus it can present itself under the aspect of a gas, a liquid or a solid.

And here I find myself peering tentatively over the rim of what appears to be an extremely deep rabbit hole. No doubt this is something I really ought to know more about, but it is perhaps too much to dig into on a rainy Friday when I set out to write about a silly little pop tune. So let’s table that for now, and turn our attention to some gossip about The Beatles.

It may be an oversimplification to say that Paul loved “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” and the other Beatles hated it. But not much of one. By the time they came to record it for Abbey Road, George and Ringo already had PTSD from the Get Back/Let It Be sessions. Say the Liner Notes:

The many hours of rehearsing at Twickenham seem to have tainted memories of recording the song. “It went on for fucking weeks. I thought it was mad!” Ringo told Rolling Stone magazine in 2008. “We spent a hell of a lot of time on it,” George recalled. In fact, when “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” resurfaced in July 1969, it was recorded efficiently, in less time than was taken for other songs included on Abbey Road.

Which is true. But to listen to this studio clip of take 12 from July 9th is to enter into George and Ringo’s world, with Paul passive/aggressively micromanaging their every move:

To be fair, I’ve been known to be nitpicky when I care about getting something right. I get it. There’s just a lightweightness about this song that makes it seem not worth the effort.

Paul may actually have been trying to be nice by including the others in this recording. No doubt he could have played all the parts better, or at least more to his own liking. Note that the Smart Beatle had managed to be in the hospital in Scotland while most of this was happening, and when later offered the opportunity to add backing vocals, he declined.

After two verses take 12 of “MSH” descends into a long section of scat-singing — which the Liner Notes describe as “in the style of The Beatles’ favourite Harry Nilsson” — before finally and mercifully coming to a close. At the end George Martin asks “How did you feel about it?” and Paul says,

One more. It was good, you know, it had nice bits in it. But it would be nice to have the nice bits and the other bits.

“And the bad bits?” tweaks George, and Paul agrees, realizing his mistake. Then we hear the announcement “George Harrison is resting his arm” — I think that’s Ringo.

“Let it be known unto the people,” jokes Paul. Then someone shouts “Kick out the jams!” — a reference to the MC5 song/album, released back in February of 1969 — someone else screams “Brothers and sisters!”, there are a few drumbeats, and we’re done. From this point on, we need never speak of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” again.

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